Age-Related Macular Degeneration: How do you protect yourself?

Loss of vision is one of the most common fears that patients share during an eye exam. For 7.3 million people in North America with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the reality of their vision gradually fading away into a world of fuzzy shapes and ambiguous colour is devastating.

Great news: technology is providing options that can put you in the driver’s seat — in control of your vision care and eye health.

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
The macula is a delicate portion of the retina that is responsible for 90 per cent of our central vision — the vision we use to focus on objects. In order to provide a high level of detailed vision, the macular tissue must be extremely thin, leaving it vulnerable to damage. If something causes distress to this area, it leads to severe visual changes. Our eyes are not very large, considering the complex functions that take place within. In such limited space, there is not a lot of room for blood vessels, which supply oxygen and nutrients and remove waste from the tissue. In fact, the macula has only a single blood supply. When the blood vessels in the macu¬lar region are compromised due to free radical damage from the sun or vascular disease like cholesterol or hardening of the arteries, the cells begin to die. The death of these cells is AMD.

What can I do to protect myself?
Until recently, most focus in the medical community was on treatment for advanced “wet” AMD. Steroids, laser treatments and injectables are available to treat the symptoms of the disease.
Studies released in 2001 found that a specific combination of antioxidants and zinc helped, once AMD had been diagnosed, and macular vitamins including carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin can also be used to help stabilize the condition and reduce the chance of progression.

But what about stopping the bleeding before it happens in the first place? What can you do to protect yourself? Among the studies published in the Archives of Ophthalmol¬ogy are numerous references to ways to decrease the incidence of AMD by up to 45 per cent. A key strategy involves an essential nutrient that can be readily found in a diet that includes fish. This nutrient, commonly known as omega-3 “fish oil,” has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Stopping inflammation means that the nutrient supply to the macular area continues, thus reducing the risk that AMD will develop or progress.

It is important to understand that not all omega-3s are created equal; most are a mixture of various fish or plant extracts that don’t deliver therapeutic concentrations and active ingredients required to be effective. They can be unstable, providing little benefit and in some cases, unwanted side effects.

Research has identified that a long-chained omega-3 called eicosa¬pentaenoic acid (EPA), when prepared correctly, has a high level of anti-inflammatory action, and with proper application, can bring inflammation of the blood vessels under control. A chemically similar omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been shown to improve proper cell function and can help protect blood vessels from leaking.

In other words, if you take the wrong supplement you may be making matters worse.

Finding the best product can be confusing, so involve your Optometrist in the decision and select a “pharmaceutically certified” supplement, such as one from Physician Recommended Nutriceuticals©. Don’t be mislead by statements such as “pharmaceutical grade.” The right omega-3 supplement can make a difference to your view of the world, so take time to investigate the options and ensure you are getting what you need to protect your vision.

Photo © onepony

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